One of the big perks to my August road trip was getting media passes at most of the ballparks I visited. Nearly all the teams I dealt with were extremely accommodating when I told them about my visit and my website, The Ballpark Guide.
The lone downside (and it’s a small one) to getting a media pass is that you can’t get autographs. When I went to Fenway Park for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader, however, I didn’t have a pass. This meant, of course, that I was free to get some autographs.
I was lucky to get three members of the Hudson Valley Renegades to sign a baseball for me before they squared off against the Lowell Spinners.
Here’s the ball:
From top to bottom, the ball features the signatures of pitcher Jeff Ames, catcher Justin O’Conner and catcher Luke Maile.
Ames, who was recently ranked as the number 19 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, was arguably Hudson Valley’s best pitcher in 2012. He posted a 6-1 record with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.
O’Conner joines Ames on the Rays’ top prospect list, placing 18th. He hit .223 and finished fifth on the team in hits (53) and fourth in RBIs (29). He also hit the longest Renegades home run at Dutchess Stadium in 2012.
Maile finished third on the team with a .278 batting average, while leading the club in RBIs (41) and triples (3). When’s the last time you saw a catcher lead his team in three-baggers?
I’m glad to add this ball to my autograph collection, and it’ll be exciting to follow the careers of these three guys, who all look to be off to a great start.
Remember how on August 22, I debated going to another Boston Red Sox game and opted to stay in my hotel, get to bed in decent time and hopefully feel better for the last game of my trip? Mission accomplished. I woke up the morning of August 23 feeling great, and although the last game of any road trip can be a bit of a downer, I was excited to drive from Boston to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to see the Hudson Valley Renegades. This road trip had a bit of a Renegades theme — I’d already seen them on the road three separate times, so it was cool to finally see them at Dutchess Stadium, the place they call home.
The hotel for the last night of my trip was the Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill, and after stopping to visit some neat sights along the route, I checked into the hotel around 4 p.m. I love traveling, seeing new cities and hotels, and I always look forward to staying at Hilton Garden Inns. I’ve had some great experiences at this chain in the past, including in Manchester, N.H., and Lakewood, N.J. And I’m pleased to report this hotel was amazing. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:
When I checked in, the people at the front desk were extremely friendly and given that they knew about my trip from when I booked, were asking me about my travels. I was thrilled to see the room — spacious, clean and very new looking. This shot shows the basics of the room …
… and this one shows the TV and desk, as you can see:
The Hilton Garden Inn Fishkill is less than 10 minutes from Dutchess Stadium, which is perfect. The hotel is also in the middle of a giant complex that includes a bunch of places to shop and eat, like Walmart (perfect for loading up on road trip snacks), Panera Bread and Cold Stone Creamery. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re in town to see the Renegades, and next time I visit the area, I’ll certainly stay here again.
I didn’t have long to check out the hotel, though, as I wanted to get to the ballpark in good time. Like many other teams on this trip, the Renegades were extremely helpful and had offered to provide me with a media credential. And, as you know, whenever I’m fortunate enough to get one, I like to arrive early and explore.
The drive was a quick one, and pretty soon, I was standing in the unique pavilion in front of the place the locals call “The Dutch.” I use the word unique because I can’t recall a green baseball field on the ground like the one here:
After snapping a few photos outside the park, I went into the team office and picked up the media credential from broadcaster Ben Gellman. I also owe thanks to director of baseball communications Joe Ausanio, who helped set everything up in regards to my pass. Thanks, guys! I peeked into the nearly-empty ballpark and while it was temping to immediately go check things out, I always love to see if I can add a batting practice home run ball to my collection.
I walked down a hill to an area in the left field corner and saw this:
A few baseball collectors were in the area grabbing home run balls and given that I’m not the type to compete with others for balls, I wandered to an empty area and hoped a ball might come my way. There was no immediate action, so I wandered back and forth in the area down this path:
I even stood beneath the scoreboard and looked back up at it for a different-angled view:
A moment later, I heard a ball bounce hard off something wooden, and when I turned to look in the direction of the sound, I saw the ball sitting plainly in the mud. The ball collectors were in the woods a short distance away, and after the ball landed, I didn’t hear them rustling through the underbrush toward the ball, so I walked over and picked it up:
Satisfied with a ball, I continued along the path to the area beyond the right field corner, where I saw the covered batting cages:
There wasn’t much happening in this area, so I decided to retrace my footsteps back along the path and possibly find another ball before heading into the park. Then, I saw this:
And a handful more, until I had eight (mostly wet and soggy) balls. It was a strange ball utopia. The thick brush hid a ton of baseballs and as I was searching, more seemed to keep flying past me. I actually was thinking how awful it’d be to get hit by one, which is entirely possible given that you really can’t see them coming. Not five seconds after I thought this, I felt one go past my ear as I had my head turned. It sounds dramatic, but it was chilling. I could actually feel and hear the air displaced by the ball as it whistled past, and I know that if it had hit me, it would have been bad news. I was actually pretty rattled and my hands were shaking as I sorted the eight balls I’d gathered and took this photo:
The second I snapped the photo, I shoved the balls into my backpack and got the heck out of there. The incident hasn’t necessarily changed how I feel about hanging out behind the fence during BP, but I’m going to be a little more selective about where I go from now on.
After exiting the area in the right field corner, I walked through the players’ parking lot and back toward the front of the ballpark:
By now, the pavilion in front of the main gates was crowded, and I entered the park to begin exploring before it got too packed. I couldn’t resist stopping at the team shop, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve found that in the New York-Penn League, team shops range from full stores to tiny carts parked on the concourse. Hudson Valley’s is large, roomy and has a ton of Renegades things for sale:
When I made it out to the seating bowl, I saw that the Connecticut Tigers (who I’d already seen at home on this trip) were still taking batting practice:
I opted to continue exploring The Dutch, rather than sit down at field level and watch. I’m glad I did, too, because I’m pleased with how this panorama I took from the park’s suite level turned out. I especially like the mountains in the background:
Remember the baseball field laid out in the ground at the front gate? As I walked along the walkway of the suite level (which you can see in the photo of the front of the park), I got a better view of the field, as well as the people waiting to get in:
After a quick stop in the press box …
… I went up top on the first base side to take this panorama:
During my travels, I noticed this setting for two, which I thought was unique:
The menu, which was sitting on the table, contained such options as fried calamari, penne with vodka sauce, tilapia and cannoli. I didn’t figure the lucky patrons who would soon occupy this spot would appreciate me sitting down and placing my order, so I continued walking.
Speaking of food: You know how food service at some stadium is a complete free-for-all? This dizzying photo shows how the Renegades keep things systematic and sensible at their concession stands:
Next, I went down to field level where I came across some of the neatest close-to-the-action seats I’ve seen in the Minors:
And when I looked back up toward the concourse, a nice waterfall setup reminiscent of the one at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps:
From the third base line, I followed the cross-aisle all the way over to the first base line, where there’s an enormous picnic deck area:
Next up, three cool things you just don’t see in the Major Leagues:
1. A Hudson Valley player cleaning his cleats outside the clubhouse before the game:
2. A bunch of Connecticut players standing in line at one of the concession stands in the concourse:
3. A pair of Renegades walking through the concourse:
When I passed by the team shop again, I paused to look at several Negro league jerseys that caught my eye. They were super cheap (around $15, I think) and while I was tempted to get one, they were all enormous — like XXXXXXXL (for real) and so on. Here’s one from the Brooklyn Royal Giants:
I spent the next little bit wandering around and taking in the sights. A lot of players were signing autographs around the dugouts, and believe it or not, the outfield was opened up to fans who wanted to play catch. I didn’t bother going down to the field, as I have in the past. Instead, I saw this catchy sign and really liked it:
I think I’m a combination of The Fanatic and The Collector and The Cuisine Connoisseur. What about you?
Although dinner time was approaching, the menu didn’t have anything that really enticed me. The selection was good, but I found most of the items to be overpriced. A salad for $6? Hot dogs for $3.50? Seems a little pricey by NYPL standards.
Once the fans finished up their game of catch in the outfield, I went over to the Hudson Valley bullpen area down the first base line and took some action shots of the warmups:
Second baseman Thomas Coyle:
First baseman Michael Williams:
Catcher Jake DePew:
While I was down here, I captured my press pass:
When the game finally began (I should note I’ve somehow managed to write 1,600 words before the first pitch), I took a spot above the third base dugout to snap some action photos, including Hudson Valley starter Jeff Ames:
Connecticut outfielder Zach Kirksey, facing some high heat:
See the tiger-striped wrist tape? Love it! Here’s a closer shot of another player’s tape that I snapped in the pre-game:
Next, it was behind home plate for an inning, where I enjoyed this view:
Then, over to the first base line for a few more action shots, like this one of Hudson Valley’s Marty Gantt sliding into second:
The PA announcer at The Dutch is the best I’ve ever heard. He talked often throughout the game but was never obnoxious, as some people with unlimited access to a microphone can be. The most impressive part of the evening was something I couldn’t document with my camera, so I’ll share it here. Sometime before this game, an area husband and wife were killed in a car accident, leaving three children behind. The team’s PA announcer challenged fans to make donations to help out the family, and as an interactive twist, fans could take their money right up to the PA window and the announcer would declare the amount. The donations ranged from children handing over pocket change to businesses putting up three figures, and despite the horrible circumstances of the fundraising, it was exciting — and very heart warming — to witness. By the end of the night, more than $3,000 was raised, which says a great deal about the community spirit of the Renegades fan base.
I spent a chunk of the mid to late innings behind the third base dugout, and in the last inning, moved back behind home plate where I enjoyed this view:
The game was an
offensive defensive display; the Renegades won 1-0 while outhitting Connecticut 5-3. Ames was awesome, pitching five innings of one-hit ball while striking out eight Tigers. Although it was the last game of my big road trip of 2012, I’ve since attended a pair of MLB games that I’ll be blogging about soon.